The Reality of Freelancing: The Dream Is Free. The Hustle, Sold Separately

I used to dream about what it would be like to be a digital nomad. Just me, my laptop and a turquoise stretch of ocean on either side.

I’d think about what it would be like to work from a remote location that inspired my creativity and not just a desk where I’m accounted for between 9-5. How much more I could be getting done!

I thought the flexibility of a freelance lifestyle would allow me the time I needed to further build my personal brand and get noticed by brands and influencers. With more time I could make it happen faster!

I’d fantasize about how many projects I could take on. Going from a set income level to being able to charge for projects or hourly work (cha-ching, amiright?!). Which meant that in no time, all the projects I’d be getting paid to do would totally outweigh my full time salary.

Every aspect of freelance work was attractive to me – freedom to take time off when I wanted to, to travel, to get to the gym more, to not have a commute to/from an office, to cook all my own meals, to work from home wearing comfy clothes and also be productive at life tossing in a quick load of laundry, and the ability to get paid more.

It all sounded like a dream. Until it became my reality.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Unlike most freelancers who quit their full-time job to pursue freelancing, I became a freelancer out of necessity.

Twice.

When your employer comes to you one day and says, “thank you but we no longer need your services.” What do you do?  For me, at the time, I did the only thing I knew how to do; I put my hard skills in SEO and online marketing to work as a consultant.

When it happened again this year, I did the same thing.

Only this time, I’m a little bit wiser.

I want to share what I know about the reality of being self-employed; what it really takes to build a consulting business from scratch. I also want to dispel the narrative on social media about freelancing which makes it look like you can be running your amazing, solopreneur business from your laptop on a beach in Bali.

My hope is to impart the reality of what you’re getting into if you’re considering following in the (sandy) footsteps of seemingly countless freelancers out there who are (at least visually) crushing it today. At the very least, I can share my wisdom to help you navigate this type of career path and the tools I’ve picked up along the way that will jumpstart your process.

In case you haven’t noticed the pattern in these Sponsored posts, the social media scene on Facebook and Instagram is rife with posts advertising how to become a lifestyle blogger /writer or digital nomad.  I’m not here to stomp all over your interests and passions, just don’t be fooled: there is no quick fix.

Here are three separate examples:

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It’s 2018, don’t be naive. There is no pill to take, no class to attend, no online workshop that can magically fast track you through the growth process of finding a profitable niche, building your brand, learning how to market yourself, and developing effective, repeatable methods for getting leads and prospecting clients.

The Perks of Freelancing

These perks live up to the hype:

  • zero commute
  • flexible working schedule
  • work from anywhere (that you can actually be productive)
  • being in control of what you make
  • no office politics
  • no need to spend money on expensive office wardrobe or (for ladies) makeup
  • no “all-hands” meetings (especially the impromptu kind)

That’s the plus side of what the freelance lifestyle affords you.

Yes, you have way more freedom and flexibility in your schedule to travel but, funding will invariably become a factor. If, for example, you plan to be jet setting around the world living that laptop lifestyle, you’d better be ready to be frugal with your finances and spend like a student on a semester abroad.
Yes, you are literally in charge of how much you can make. Every business needs to spend money to make money. But while full-time employees are reimbursed by their company, as someone who is self-employed, when you spend money, don’t expect a reimbursement check coming back to you in the mail.

No doubt the more glamorized version you see online makes it even more appealing. So, I thought it would be fun to paint a more realistic picture of the freelance life that I feel isn’t accurately being portrayed on social media.

Myth: You think working from home means taking it poolside.

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Reality: Have you ever been able to actually see your laptop screen in direct sunlight? Also, where do you plug in?

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Myth: You think being your own boss means you can spend the day as you please. Better yet, you’re such a boss you can multitask working on your laptop AND fit in gym time!

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Myth (con.t): You think building your brand online is tied to becoming Insta famous by posting selfies while crushing it and hashtagging: #bosslife #gymlife #laptopgamestrong #livingthedream.

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Reality check: who does this?!

Myth: You’ll think Wi-Fi everywhere and a Starbucks on every corner are you new BFF’s for productivity.

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Reality check: Public wi-fi is not the most secure. Plan on using coffee shops for breaks and writing not checking in on your client’s analytics data — you can’t know what someone would do if they happened to see your unsecured files on their device. The only friendly is the guy reading a newspaper!

Myth: Your freelance work from anywhere job means now you have the freedom and flexibility to jet set around the globe. Just you and your laptop!

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Reality check: Most of the jet-setting freelancers are single and have an on-the-go lifestyle anyway. It’s highly unlikely your spouse and/or kids’ schedules will allow them to also pick up and go. But, being able to dictate your own schedule does allow you to be available for your kids or work around a spouse’s tricky hours.

Myth: You’ll think after Googling “freelance writing jobs how to make money” and trying it out, you can make six figures in your first year.

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Reality check: this is the most dangerous association made about freelancing. Yes, freelance work is the type of job where you can create additional revenue streams. But it takes work, self discipline, processes and tools.

Remember when you were a little kid and you learned milk comes from cows and not the carton in the refrigerator? Becoming a freelancer is a lot like that.

The Benefits of Working From Home

Let me make a slight distinction between freelancing and working from home (WFH).

In this case, the former refers to being an entrepreneur where you market your skills and services, close business, fulfill projects, and repeat the cycle anew.  The latter could mean you have a particular set of skills that is conducive to operating out of your home (i.e. writer) and are employed full time with the ability to work remotely (i.e. from home).

Deciding to quit your day job and becoming a solopreneur because you want the benefits of a freelance lifestyle is inherently risky. If you don’t know what’s involved, there is a better way to dip your toe into the water.

There are certain types of jobs that afford you the ability to work from home. But there’s a big difference between being employed and getting to WFH and WFH as as a freelancer.

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Source: LinkedIn news stories feed, August 21, 2018

The key words in there are “if they’re in the right professions.”

If you simply want to work from home, here’s a helpful list of 50 Work-From-Home Jobs Paying as Much or a Lot More Than the Average American Salary by my friend and entrepreneur, John Rampton.

Similarly, he is someone who can attest to a handful of disadvantages of freelance work.  From my perspective, I’m documenting what I’m finding to be the realities of freelance life.

 

Freelance Reality

Anyone who tells you all about their glamorous lifestyle as a remote worker who freelances could use your unwavering stare as you await their honest answer.

It’s unfortunate that the corporate workplace gets painted as a cubicle prison, and freelance is the paradigm of freedom. A lifestyle with work-life balance that we all aspire to (I mean, it even has the word “free” built into the word).

 

The truth is anyone can freelance.  The reality is not everyone can thrive doing it.

You should never quit your full time day job if the income from your side hustle doesn’t cover your basic monthly expenses, and don’t forget about insurance and benifits. Re-read that sentence if you need to.

Now, I realize hearing that sucks because some people really are in crappy jobs and it’s just easier to quit and start your own thing. You can absolutely do that but take these two nuggets of wisdom before you leap:

  1. Use the time to build up your side hustle before you leave an existing income.
  2. Become really self aware of your strengths as a sole proprietor that contribute to growing your business and brand. And recognize what you should outsource.

For a while I thought my day job ate into the hours I could be spending investing in my side business. What I now realize is that you can always learn something from your exposure to any business. A day job in the industry you want to be in gives you context, contacts, and experience.

It’s easy to zone out and get comfortable at a 9-5. But what most people don’t realize about freelance work is that it will become your job to push yourself and motivate yourself and to time manage yourself accordingly.

Business doesn’t just come rolling in if you don’t know how to do outreach and identify and pitch prospects.

Projects don’t just get done if you don’t prioritize your time and do the work to deliver it on time.

And, fun fact: you’re the one responsible for making sure you get paid!

The reality, is you have to manage yourself.

When you work for someone else, you don’t have to think about or do all of the other things that come with running a business.

But, when you run the show, you must learn to discipline yourself in prioritizing your tasks and time.

What’s more, you must be frugal with your spending. Since month-to-month will be feast or famine, if you want to survive you’d better be a saver not a spender (somebody put that on a T-shirt!).

What you don’t hear freelancers talk about are things like:

  • Getting leads is an ongoing process and it’s largely about tapping into your network.
  • Becoming profitable means creating a sustainable referral-based business.
  • You’re going to have to figure out what to charge (hourly and project rates), and why.
  • You have to be able to clearly articulate what you do, what value you bring, what problem you solve and why someone should hire you.
  • If you market yourself online you’re going to want to set up a blog, landing page or website to capture leads and talk about your services.

3 Challenges of Being A Freelancer (and sources for overcoming them)

  1. Paying for healthcare out of pocket
  2. Paying taxes on your new income
  3. Making sure you have legal protection

Healthcare for self-employed: If you can get onto your spouse’s plan, it’s worth looking into. Otherwise, I learned about eHealth insurance that can provide plans for individuals or small businesses with at least one employee. The catch is that you have to wait for the open enrollment period (which begins in November).

Taxes: How much do I need to set aside? When should I pay taxes on freelance projects? The answer is, it depends. The best advice I can offer you is to get a tax guy (I’m happy to refer you to mine) who can accurately advise you on when and how much you’ll need to set aside for taxes. I’ve heard paying taxes on your freelance income quarterly is helpful.

Pro tip: Have a blank W2 form handy to be able to sign, scan and send to new clients so you can invoice them as an independent contractor.

Online business legalities: Whats the “legal side” of what you need to know about an online business? This is a seemingly daunting topic which I’ve been slowly reading up on. I came across a great resource by Christy Westerfeld. Start by reading her post on uncomplicating legal here.

 

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Freelancing…

  1. Focusing on doing more of “the right things” daily that grow your business and prospects is invaluable. Specifically, spending two hours a day networking to build your pipeline. Also, set up systems to stay accountable doing things like attending networking events, creating content with an influencer, asking for a referral, and doing work that builds your portfolio.
  2. Be ruthless with scheduling and managing your time. This article on FastCompany (3 minute read) gave me perspective and new things to try, “How To Schedule Your Day For Peak Creative Performance.”
  3. Develop templates for repeatable paperwork like proposals, SOW’s (scope of work), invoices, etc.
  4. Organize your network in three groups: Prospects, Mentors, Peers.  Execute your outreach in that order.
  5. Don’t give up your gym membership. You’ll need an outlet and a supportive community to help you maintain perspective through the ups and downs of being your own boss.

 

Fantastic & Pactical Freelance Resources

Here’s who I wish I knew when starting out — and who I’m still learning from 😉

He’s one of the best out there for practical, actionable steps towards building a profitable side business. What’s more, Ryan is incredibly generous to others finding their way and has compiled and shared his best proposal templates for earning new business and converting leads into clients.

Pro tip: His podcast The Side Hustle Project: How to Start A Side Hustle Today is loaded with great interviews and information.

Credo connects businesses with vetted digital marketing providers. It’s ideal for companies that need SEO services and a lead resource for search engine optimization freelance professionals who want consistent work.

Due provides seamless payment solutions for businesses of all sizes. The site also has products and informative resources like a Consulting Guide and Freelancer Guide to help others get started.

If you’re not fired up and ready to attack the day after listening to Gary, I don’t know what else will do it for you. He talks entrepreneurship 24/7 — he even built his own search engine so you can get his thoughts and ideas on any topic.

Ideal for people who’ve spent hours trying to make their digital marketing business work but are out of ideas for closing business and getting more clients.

  • Christina Pashialis

A fellow freelance marketer based in the UK who shared her own powerfully honest learnings about freelance.

Last but definitely not least, Rand Fishkin. His book “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World” is always within eyesight on my desk.

I’ll be sure to add more helpful resources here as I come across them 😀

Summary – Freelance jobs are the way of the future

Today, more than ever, jobs in the “professional services” industry are on the rise.

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Source: Mary Meeker – Internet Trends Report 2018

It’s not surprising since the nature of freelance work is largely equated to having a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from home. The data definitely reflects this.

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Source: Mary Meeker – Internet Trends Report 2018

 

It saddens me that freelance work isn’t a more viable option for more people. I believe it offers better flexibility for working parents. Especially those with the means to travel and take their children to see and experience new places. I believe there are people who are trustworthy and capable of working remotely who don’t need to be “visible” around the office in order to be productive. There are may positive aspects to freelance work but it’s important to understand that things like income and projects don’t just appear.

It’s all about executing on the right advice.

Execute on the right things for long enough, and you will be successful. These days, my definition of success as a freelancer is making an income that covers my rent and basic monthly expenses, making time for healthy meal prep along with daily fitness, and being home when my fiancé is also off work.

The dream of leading a freelance lifestyle – and IMHO, all of it’s inaccuracies – is still incredibly attractive to many people.  That being said, how you achieve financial success, grow your business, market your skills and services is where the real work will always need to be put in.

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

 

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The Busy Marketer’s Guide to Google’s Broad Core Algorithm Update of 8/1

Are you sitting down?

Good. Because Google just announced they made an algorithm update on August 1, 2018. They rarely confirm any kind of update let alone one having to do with their algorithm.

Still, the August announcement was made via the Twitter account from Google Search Liaison (@searchliaison).

Here is the tweet:

Google SearchLiaison on Twitter

Google SearchLiaison @searchliaison

When did the algorithm update happen?

Here’s what makes this Broad Core (BC) algorithm update special, 8/1 is the third iteration of a broad core update that’s been announced this year. Which means Google is actively communicating to webmasters about algorithm improvements.

Here’s a quick overview of the timeline from SEO industry heavyweights:

Per the Tweet above, these types of updates are done “routinely several times per year.”

More threads on Twitter expanded upon Google’s explanation around the latest 8/1 release:

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This part of the Tweet is interesting to note, “There is nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefitting pages that were previously under-rewarded…”

Marketers & SEO’s shouldn’t jump to make changes to pages that may have slipped in rankings. It might be prudent to check pages that were ranking in striking distance position to page 1 (positions 11-20) to see if those pages are now ranking higher.

The speculation continued last week all the while the BC algorithm continues to roll out into the second week of August.

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What is the Broad Core Update?

So there’s “no fix” only, get better. In my opinion, the takeaway around the BC algorithm is that it is related to the types of quality updates seen with Panda (maybe even to an extent Phantom) where pages with thin content did not rank well.

It seems like a re-evaluation of pages that have good content but have been underperforming. Meeting user intent (or relevancy) is a factor. Maybe searchers have been returning to the SERPS and clicking on what they feel to be better, more relevant results, further down the page?

All in all, Google wants to provide the best results to the searcher and better understanding the human intent behind the query or keyword search helps them refine their listings.

It would seem this BC update relates to Google’s core algorithm.

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The takeaway: “This is a broader general change to the core algorithm.”

What does Google want at its core? Quality. It wants to provide the best individual user experience possible to the person asking a question or typing in a noun into their search box.

Marie Haynes, a recognized industry authority figure on algorithms, shared a few insights from here client’s data and clues about potentially affected industries:

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What industries were affected? 

Furthermore, Haynes’ data indicated the 8/1 update strongly affected sites dealing with diet products, nutrition and medical products otherwise known as YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life) sites.

  • “It is important to note that most sites that I monitor did not see any significant changes. However, the majority of those that did see changes were very strongly affected” Haynes said.
  • In her opinion, the update is primarily about trust. Many sites that were hit were sites that lacked author E-A-T, lacked reputation information, or were selling products that could be deemed untrustworthy.

I happen to agree with her completely, especially on the point of sites needing to invest in content that reflects Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.

Large service based businesses have been known to publish lots of pages that probably have little value (or content) on them simply because at one point, everyone thought more content translated into better rankings. But it doesn’t. It marginally increases the potential to have more pages ranking because you have a higher volume of pages in Google’s index. It doesn’t mean the content is of high quality.

Assuming this BC update is based on course correcting where Google is looking for more quality signals, it does not mean webmasters need more pages; it means they need to improve upon the pages that already exist.

Another trusted resource of the SEO community is Glenn Gabe. He has compiled two extensive blog posts detailing his data and the insights he is seeing thus far from this update. Here are a few of his highlights; clues to quality and relevance factors:

Gabe’s Clues:

  • March was a global update impacting domains across categories and countries.
  • The impact was site-wide rather than at the page level.
  • “In January of 2016, we found out that Panda became part of Google’s core ranking algorithm… Panda seemed to focus more on relevance rather than hammering sites that were low-quality.”
  • The March and April updates were big. Relevance AND quality stood out.
  • Make fixes and don’t roll them back. “Google’s John Mueller has explained several times that Google wants to see significant improvement over the long-term.”

Simply put, Relevance and Quality are the keys to these broad updates happening throughout this year. It’s very possible these two factors will continue to be at the forefront of future BC updates.

What should we do?

First things first 😉

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Now that we know there’s no quick fix (hint: there never really is). Marketers & SEO’s alike should “focus on building great content.” Here’s my caveat: remain focused on building great content by improving upon what you have and provide a great website experience for users and bots that’s technically sound. If we do that, we’ll weather the upcoming iterations of Google’s broad core algorithm updates.

Reversals in organic traffic can happen (meaning your traffic dips for a time then comes back up) but webmasters should not simply wait around and do nothing. This is an opportunity to improve the elements on our web domain that are within our control. Here are the top recommendations and action steps I compiled from Gabe and Haynes:

  1. Improve your website: add useful & helpful content, address any technical SEO issues, improve the user experience, cut down on pop-up ads and boxes “join-our-newsletter requests” that obstruct the visitor from seeing your content.
  2. Don’t revert changes – Keep the fixes in place for at least several months.
  3. Analyze queries and content that lost rankings – Check the queries the page was ranking for, evaluate the on-page content with an objective eye to see if the page is relevant to the search intent.
  4. Perform real user testing – Invest in asking a handful of people to navigate your site with a goal in mind. Have them narrate the experience, record it, and make changes based on the findings. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see where to make improvements.
  5. Read the QRT – Quality Rater Guidelines and have working review sections with your team. You can download the PDF of the general guidelines updated in July.
  6. Use the GSC Index Coverage Report – This is a newer section of Search Console that helps webmasters understand which pages Google is indexing and which pages it’s not. Gabe recommends keeping a close eye on the “Excluded,” reporting. That’s where you can often find serious problems. It contains pages that Google has crawled, but decided NOT to index for some reason.
    1. GSC Location: Status>>Index Coverage>>Excluded

Continue to monitor rankings for organic search traffic (especially on mobile!) from mid July through mid August since the update is still presumed to be rolling out this week.

Could your content and website use help identifying technical SEO improvements and specific quality and content areas to address during this update?

Contact me for an SEO Site Audit by emailing me at itsmillertime0baby (at) gmail.com. Subject line: SEO Site Audit – BC Update.

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San Francisco: What To Do If You Have One Day In The Bay

My college roommate visited me this weekend from Sacramento and we decided to play tourist around San Francisco for a day (despite her having been to the city many times, and me living less than 15 miles south of it).  There are so many sights to see around the bay area that I felt like there wasn’t enough time to visit them all let alone have an enjoyable catch up time.

What do you do with one day in the Bay?

I started my search by pulling out a bunch of printed brochures gathered from various visits by my mom and boyfriend’s mom (mom’s really are amazing!) and began sifting through an array of colorful, touristy options. Alcatraz tours, wine tasting, Pier 39 –it was hard to settle on one thing to see and do or balance what 2-3 sights we could realistically fit in. Way too much to choose from!

Then I came across a brochure for the Big Bus Tour a double-decker hop on/off sightseeing bus whose daytime route made several stops around the city. This allowed us to hit up a couple landmarks without driving around so we could actually spend the time sightseeing and talking. It was perfect.

We decided to meet at Embarcadero (stop # 5 on the route) which allowed us to get lunch in the area before linking up with the tour. We decided to try out The Slanted Door located inside the Ferry Building on the far north corner.  I was surprised to find this restaurant to be quite elegant, but comfortable and, at the same time, reasonably-priced. It had a unique menu with lots of tasty, adult beverages 😀

After getting a bite to eat, it was time to rendezvous at the bus pick up point. This proved to be a little difficult to locate at first since there wasn’t a lot of signage. But, their buses come around every 15-20 minutes so if you’re in the general area you can’t miss the Big Bus. If you’re curious about the day tour “red route” you can view it here.

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Personally, I always like to try to dress for the day’s activities. So, a couple quick tips about what to wear/bring when touring San Francisco in January. We happened to get a beautiful, clear day so rain ponchos were not needed but SF is known for its foggy weather so be sure to check the weather forecast once you book your tour.  It’s a safe bet to dress as though it were going to be under 40 degrees.

First, I have to tell you about the best pants to wear anytime you’re out and about sightseeing. Anything with a side stash pocket is perfect because you’re taking pictures one minute then getting up and moving to disembark the next. Being able to secure your phone in a pocket on your thigh instead of a backpack is much faster and seamless.  These types of pants are becoming a lot more popular by lifestyle athletic brands so wear whatever style you like (tights, jogger, capri) but, in my opinion, Athleta has the best street pants and at the best price. It’s one of my favorite brands.

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Wander Utility Pant by Athleta

I was wearing their Wander Utility Pant (sale price $75.99). These are fantastic pants to wear around the town because they’re more stylish than yoga pants and they function like cargo pants: they’re comfortable, chic and perfect for wearing around town.

Final note on what to wear and pack along. I took a set of gloves, scarf, baseball cap, sunglasses and jacket. The cap was really helpful when going across the Golden Gate bridge because it was so windy! This is going to sound really girly but it’s not enjoyable, or easy for that matter to take pictures, if your hair is whipping you in the face the whole way.

To recap, a hop on/hop off bus tour is a great way to kill a few birds with one stone. The only thing I would change is to have commemorative blankets available on the bus. Always be prepared and BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket 😉

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Free Digital Marketing Advice: Why You Should Care About Search Engines

The short answer is, because search engines are the gateway to paying customers.

Aside from the glaring fact that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine and there are over two billion people online (that’s roughly 40% of the world’s population). The reality is, a majority of your customer base is hanging out online.

More to the point, I’ll answer that question with another question. Have you ever gotten lost in the woods?

Now, if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. But if you have, you know the only thing in the world you want (aside from a cheeseburger) is to be found.

Picture yourself alone in the woods. Completely alone and lost. When it happens, you start doing everything in your power to make sure someone finds you.

You put on any bright clothing you have.

You waive your arms and shout at anything that even remotely resembles a human being.

You start trying to build a fire to make smoke signals.

You pull out something reflective from your bag to flash at airplanes.

You start building large man-made structures (AKA ducks) to attract attention.

You locate the highest point possible or try to find open space so you can be spotted.

The point is, you fight to be found.

You fight because your very life depends on it.

But it’s only when you’re in that kind of extreme situation that you fight. You’re trying to get someone—anyone’s—attention.

Attention is currency. Especially online.

Now, instead of you alone in the woods picture that it’s your business or your blog that’s trying to be found online. Your one job as a listing on the first page is to grab someone’s attention, hook them on your story, and sell to them.

The search engine results page (SERP) is your wilderness.

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search for “what is content marketing.”  What would you click on?

The simple fact is that search engines process questions posed by real people (who have real money too!). Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day.

It’s time to realize what it takes to be found online. And the fight is already at your doorstep. Between Google’s Mobile First index initiative and smart, connected devices everywhere, getting found is only the beginning of surviving in the digital age.

The Secret to Great Content Marketing: Q&A with Scott Stratten

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That’s never been more true for content marketers than it is today. Thankfully, there are unconventional marketers living and speaking (read: ranting) among us to guide the way and keep us honest about what really matters in business and to people. Scott Stratten is one of them.  Scott is the author of “UnMarketing: Everything Has Changed and Nothing is Different.” He is also a dynamic speaker.

I first heard of Scott and his work when I was interviewing a number of speakers from Content Marketing World earlier this year.  I was curious to get his perspective on how he consistently creates quality content. While I wasn’t able to meet Scott in person, he very kindly responded to my interview questions via email.

His answers delighted and informed me. I hope you enjoy his wit and wisdom too:

(HM) What information does your audience most want to read about? And how do you deliver on that?

(SS) We’re pretty unique in that we focus mainly on bad business instead of good. The UnPodcast is “The Business Show For The Fed-Up”. We’ve become the magnet for when a brand does wrong, our army of followers send it to us. You never want to be the name in the message “Did you guys see this?”

We deliver it through our weekly UnPodcast, blog (rarely), 5 books and 60 keynote talks at conferences per year.

(HM) How do you know what to write about? 

(SS) If we find it interesting, then so does our audience. We’ve always put out content we enjoyed, and then the audience qualifies itself.

(HM) How do you say current with industry trends in content marketing?

(SS) Always be consuming. To be a good content marketer, you have to be an insatiable content consumer. I never stop reading/watching/listening. That’s my only job. Strong newsletter subscriptions, Google news alerts and even smarter friends/colleagues/fans that curate great content, both directly to us and in their own feeds.

(HM) What combination of platforms are you using to curate and create content?

(SS) Weekly UnPodcast, blog, 5 books and 60 keynote talks at conferences per year. Post weekly on UnMarketing Facebook page (on average, no set frequency), tweet when we feel like it and wonder weekly why we use LinkedIn.

(HM) What are some of the problems that aren’t being addressed by larger companies in the area of content marketing?

(SS) Content is contextual based on the platform it’s published on. We uploaded a video of one of my rants. It got 250k views, which is great but should have been better. Knowing the context of Facebook video (versus YouTube) that you have to catch a potential viewer in a scroll on their news feeds, we re-uploaded the same clip, with a letterboxed view, complete with an attention grabbing headline that stayed on the video. It received over 14,000,000 views. No changes except the words on it.

(HM) What’s a common question you get asked a lot from your clients relating to content?

(SS) No idea, we have no clients 🙂

(HM) In your opinion, what is the most important element of storytelling?

(SS) There’s a reason most great stories are from humans instead of brands: companies can’t get themselves away from the mirror and realize it’s about the person consuming the story, not the one telling it.

(HM) What is your biggest content related challenge?

(SS) The debate between frequency and quality. We send a newsletter out every 6 months, but we should do it a lot more.

(HM) What does your research process look like when you’re writing about a topic you don’t know anything about?

(SS) Google 🙂

(HM) How do you see content evolving over the next 3-5 years?

(SS) Not much. Most people are predicting we’ll consume everything in VR/AR have a vested interested in it.

Bio

Scott Stratten is the President of UnMarketing. He is an expert in Viral, Social, and Authentic Marketing which he calls UnMarketing. Formerly a music industry marketer, national sales training manager and a Professor at the Sheridan College School of Business, he ran his “UnAgency” for a nearly a decade before solely focusing on speaking at events for companies like PepsiCo, Adobe, Red Cross, Hard Rock Cafe, Cirque du Soleil, Saks Fifth Avenue, Deloitte and Fidelity Investments when they need help guiding their way through the viral/social media and relationship marketing landscape. He now has over 175,000 people follow his daily rantings on Twitter and was named one of the top 5 social media influencers in the world on Forbes.com.

He has written four best-selling business books, the newest being “UnSelling: The New Customer Experience” which was just named “Sales Book of the Year” by 1-800 CEOREAD.

His passion comes out most when speaking on stage, preaching engagement and becoming one of the most sought-out speakers on the subject. Along with Alison Kramer, their UnPodcast has been signed by the CBS network as their premier business podcast to launch their new digital network.

His clients’ viral marketing videos have been viewed over 60 million times and he’s recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine, CNN.com, Inc.com and Fast Company and was named one of “America’s 10 Marketing Gurus” by Business Review USA. That plus $5 gets him a coffee anywhere in the world.


Follow UnMarketing on Facebook  or on Twitter at @unmarketing.

From Magician’s Assistant To Online Marketing Consultant

My very first job out of college (gasp! in 2007) was anything but a typical 9-5. But it’s part of who I am today.

JMP Creative_Holly Miller_ article in CU newspaper.jpg

This is literally a scan of the article clipping from the Chapman Alumni magazine.

To this day, I’m not really sure how I came home and told my parents my first job was going to be a magician’s assistant. Quite literally but not literally. You see, I was the executive assistant to a magician turned business owner whose company, JMP Creative, operated in the toy and promotional product industry.

JMP Creative_Holly Miller blog.png

Yes, you’re reading that Twitter profile correctly, this was all in a workplace that had created a billion toys. All of these rooms were part of the tour and culminated at the world’s most unique conference room…the mother ship.

The underlying meaning of “get the conference room ready” meant my timing had to be exact. I learned to give myself at least 15-20 minutes of run-around prep where I’d swiftly navigate the presentation route throughout the toy room, arcade, Think Tank, artist area, library (I always adored how many books we had) –before sneaking past the tour in progress and deftly sprinting across the parking lot to our adjacent building–where I’d switch off the house lights and turn on (you guessed it) the show lights and soundtrack to the conference room a (life-size?) spaceship suspended upon an iron framework.

JMP Creative_space ship conference room_Holly Miller.pngMeanwhile, back on earth, I learned the true value of hard work.

The ingredient for success is hard work.

My early days were spent among artists, animators and inventors in a 10,000 square foot million dollar workplace of productivity and ideation. I organized numerous display shelves of toys (created by JMP or collected by Jim for inspiration purposes), dusted glowing pinball machines weekly and practically had the corporate credit card on file at the Container Store for all the stackable jars of brightly-colored goop we’d store or ship off to the production factory.

It was really hard work to stay organized myself and to do the same for our CEO. Still, I loved how weird and chaotic the day-to-day operations could be. Seriously, I should have started blogging back then. Every day was unique and challenging in its own way and I just had to jump in and navigate.

Thinking back, I sat in on numerous meetings with Jim where inventors would bring their ideas or contraptions to him seeking product or marketing innovation. It’s where I myself began to tune into my own instincts as a marketer thinking, “what kind of person would likely search for something like this?” and “would they purchase it?”  There was a lot involved from research, iteration, pitching, revising, patenting, tinkering, refining etc, etc.

The lesson I walked away with was: if you want to make something a reality, you have to bring it to life. There is no substitute for hard work.

Sparking creativity: Brainstorming is play-storming 

Remember when you were a kid and a couch fort was anything but a crude pile of pillows and cushions? Your imagination was the key to wherever you wanted to go. We seem to lose this ability as we grow up.

But somehow, Jim had captured lightening in a bottle. His forte was engineering creative brainstorm sessions for adults. During my time there, we hosted a variety of groups from entertainment executives to wealthy foreign entrepreneurs. The sessions were designed around a simple concept: play.  Even our weekly internal meeting (“Monday Fun Day”) was engineered in the same way.

Jim habitually collected toys, props, or anything representing creative imagery.  To him, each was a different kind of tool he hoped might help inspire a client’s big idea. While it was an incredibly fruitful and ingenious technique, organizing this world in which I found myself proved to be a unique challenge.

Eventually, I grew to appreciate my own balance of organized chaos when it came to creativity. Jim was one of my earliest mentors. He was an incredible example to me of the importance of building a personal brand around showmanship (he was a magician, after all). His facility was on par with that feeling of following John Hammond around Jurassic Park, “we spared no expense!”

Jurassic park_Holly Miller blog.png

Whenever I came up against a roadblock, Jim encouraged me to find a different way to solve the problem. Those moments of having to think on my feet in front of him seemed endless. I frequently found it stressful not finding the right answer immediately. Ultimately, nature won and my brain found a new neural pathway to producing results.

Because of this, I became a much more resourceful person. Now I think, “Ok that didn’t work. But there is always a way. What’s the next thing I can try?”

My extraordinary moment – Creating Christmas in July

One of the best projects I got to be a part of was when JMP was approached by a production company to participate in the reality television series American Inventor. Three inventors were selected to work with our company and we were all on different teams to help them build, prove and develop a go to market strategy for their respective inventions. I was part of Team Chavez, with the Guardian Angel product (woo!).

Filming for American Inventor_JMP Creative.JPG

That’s me inching backwards from a mock living room completely engulfed in flames (don’t worry, mom, it was a controlled burn). See, even the professionals are present. How I got to that point requires a bit more context.

Chavez, a firefighter by trade, had an invention where the angel on top of a Christmas tree was specially designed activate and release water by way of a coil system were the tree to catch on fire.

Typically, we would be in development on a toy or product for up to a year. But due to the nature of reality TV and the production schedule, we basically shot around the clock for one month.  The timeline was compressed, to say the least, and we still had to go through all the stages of product development from sketched concept to a finished, market viable product.

On the big shoot day, production teams, JMP crew, and fire fighters set up on the back lot of a local fire station training ground to capture the product in action. We built a three-walled mock living room completely furnished (by yours truly) with curtains, couch, coffee table and, of course, Christmas tree (apparently, I couldn’t be bothered with presents at the time?).

Let’s take this in for a moment, this was July in southern California and I found Christmas trees (it still amazes me that I found a way). It was already incredibly hot outside and there we were trying to light a tree on fire to capture the successful product activation of a fire-suppression system and not enough of anything to be setting on fire. All in a day’s work.

But we delivered.

“JMP set up five cameras to shoot the test from every angle while ABC’s crews videotaped all the action.

The first test, the horn sounded but water didn’t flow because the angel blocked the release mechanism.

The second test put out the fire so fast there was hardly any flame.

Chavez wanted a bigger fire.

“You’re killing me,” McCafferty cried, half joking. They had just one fire sensor and two Christmas trees left.

The third test, a two-foot flame shot up, the horn sounded, water sprayed, the fire was not just suppressed but extinguished.

“It was probably one of the best moments in the whole process,” McCafferty said.
The judges and viewers who voted to determine the winner apparently agreed. Chavez won the million dollars and is in negotiations with First Alert.”
http://www.ocregister.com/2007/08/27/american-inventor-contestants-get-help-from-local-firm/

American Inventor_JMPCreative.JPG

Reality TV show ABC's American Inventor.JPG
I really should have asked for some of the firefighter turnout gear…

From Big Ideas to Big Data

My experience as a magician’s assistant gave me a unique skill set. It taught me how to become more adaptable, resourceful and creative. These days, I work for a German software platform that uses big data insights around business intelligence and the most outlandish place my meetings take me is Berlin.  I no longer have meetings in space ships or have to source Christmas trees in LA in the middle of summer. But my foundation in toy and product development is where I developed a great deal of humility around what it takes to bring an idea to life.

Bring on the rare, the bizarre — I can manage. I do my best work in the unknown because it’s oddly comfortable. Care to join me? It can be fun!

 

I know it all sounds so hard to believe. I guess that’s why seeing is believing. Here’s an old promo video I found on YouTube that highlights the awesome work place that is JMP Creative. Enjoy!

 

The Best Marketing Advice From The Most Unlikely Source: Heist Movies

Admittedly, I’m a movie buff and one of my favorite genera’s are heist movies. I’m also a big fan of well-executed marketing campaigns. Based on my real-world experience as a modern marketer, I have a few parallels to draw between heist films and creating marketing strategies that work.

The heist film…focuses on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a theft. Versions with dominant or prominent comic elements are often called caper movies. They could be described as the analogues of caper stories in film history.  Wikipedia.org – “what is a heist movie”

Why am I telling you this? It’s not that I want you to become a thief of your customer’s money. But if you want to build a great brand, you will want to consider that you have to (figuratively) steal their hearts and minds.

Think about your favorite heist movie and why you like it. For me, it’s stories like Ocean’s Eleven, Inception, The Italian Job, The Inside Man and The Usual Suspects. Using this list of great heist films as my inspiration, here are the five things marketers can learn from the best heist movies.

1. Plan all the way through to the end

Plan everything. Even if your team or co-workers only see the high level points of your strategy, open up a bottle of red wine one quiet evening and plaaaaaaan. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Plan for failure too. What are some of the things that could go wrong with the campaign? Doing so can minimize setbacks along the way.

Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception (2010)

Eames: You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling. [Pulls out a grenade launcher]

Thinking through how you actually deliver a service to your customers is key. From their search needing a product or service to you fulfilling that need. I like to think about it in the sense of a treasure map. Marketer’s should make it stupid easy for people to find the treasure (i.e. your product). Savvy? Ok, sorry for the Pirates of the Caribbean reference but, planning really involves thinking through the content that’s relevant to the search your users are doing and creating content servicing that need.

2. Everyone has their own unique strengths

Combine them. That’s right, you heard me, combine them. As a marketer, it’s in your best interest to nurture a team leveraging the unique qualities of each person.  This is how you build productive teams. There’s no real process for operating a great team, the secret is letting each individual do what they do well. That’s how you win together.

Ocean's 11 (2001)

Turk Malloy: [intentionally arguing to each other extend the time needed for their balloons to block the security camera’s view] Watch it, bud. Virgil Malloy: Who you calling bud, pal? Turk Malloy: Who you calling pal, friend? Virgil Malloy: Who you calling friend, jackass? Turk Malloy: Don’t call me a jackass. Virgil Malloy: I just did call you a jackass.

3. Look out for one another

Teams are like family; they stick together and have each other’s backs. The lesson here for marketers is that brands that really care and demonstrate they understand their customers will win and retain their customer base much better than the typical “kthanksby” for your purchase experience.

Inside Man (2006)

Keith Frazier: Oh, please, do not say proposals… my girlfriend… she wants a proposal from me. Dalton Russell: You think you’re too young to get married? Keith Frazier: No, I’m not too young… too broke. Maybe I should rob a bank. Dalton Russell: Do you love each other? Keith Frazier: Yeah, yeah, we do. Dalton Russell: Then money shouldn’t really matter. Keith Frazier: Thank you, bank robber!

4. Ringleaders adapt to stay in control of the progression of events

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan (see the above section on planning for failure). And that’s OK. But the reason why we like Dominick Cobb or Danny Ocean is because they seem in control.

As marketers, we know it’s not possible to remain completely in control of the outcome with such a fragmented landscape. We have to contend with things like show-rooming where people try things in store then buy online, or worse yet they snag a discounted Groupon-type engagement with your product or service. Again, that’s why planning comes in handy. Stay in touch with the customer-facing teams, like sales and customer support, so that you can use all of the data input you have to build a story line of what’s happening. Where are your customers buying and how can you (the authentic brand) be there instead to earn the sale?

Inception (2010)

5. The masterminds always gets what they want

Don’t you just want to be that person too!? I mean, how is it that they always get what they want? Because it’s by design.

For modern marketers, this means finding your true customers and continuing to bring value to them. You can also pay it forward; doing the unexpected is…well unexpected. It can even be delightful.

But it’s all by design.

Inception (2010) directed by Christopher Nolen

The Usual Suspects (1995) - Kevin Spacey. Directed by Bryan Singer